Unravel Two Review: Tugging the Heart Strings

Unravel first burst onto the scene as part of EA’s “indie” project during 2015s E3 conference with the appearance of Yarny, a cute little fellow whose picture will be prominent throughout this review. It was presented in such a human way, nervously, optimistically and with passion for something they had created. This perfectly sums up how it felt to finally play Unravel Two. It focusses around a theme of “togetherness” and this is woven into every thread of Unravel, you feel it everywhere, and it is something I will be touching on a lot in this review.

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So, after missing this title the first time around due to limited funds and time, I got my act together and bought it. On sale, because I’m broke. It looked like something fun that my girlfriend and I could play together, I did not expect to be as smitten as I was with it. So, why was that?

 

What a Wool-derful World

The first reason why I think Unravel resonated so much with me in particular was the setting and art style. The game takes place in typically British aesthetics, think wholesome countryside populated by pheasants out for blood, cold rivers full of angry trout and gloomy industrial areas typical of out-of-town plants. It all felt very close to home, like all of this could be taking place just down the road from me.

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Another point which I really appreciated about Unravel Two was this perspective being a small yarn doll gave. Everything was a threat or challenge at that size. Whether it is scaling a mountainous tin of paint or avoiding the deadly beak of the aforementioned pheasant, it brings wonder and magic to everyday objects. It was an absolute joy to find a skateboard in this world and the rush of power gained from just operating a forklift truck made everything feel real and epic.

It is a dangerous world when you’re this small, so the only way to survive and move forwards is together.

 

String Theory

You may be tempted to write this game off as just another puzzle/platformer as I did when I first saw it in action. True, there are both puzzle and platforming sections, but they take the central core mechanic of string and pull and tie it in so many different ways.

The puzzles usually revolve around getting Yarny from place to place, using his abilities to tie objects up, create bridges and use leverage to your full advantage. It is neat in theory and in practice it isn’t as finnicky as I had first imagined. The jumps and swings are very generous with room for error and it is great to see the puzzles in the main game not having a heavy reliance on precision platforming. If you can work out the solution, you can execute it.

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Using the strings between you and your partner to work pulleys and mechanisms is really fun and only a couple truly stumped us as we worked through the 4/5 hour campaign. Thankfully, there is a “hint” system for these puzzle sections which, if you want it to, will walk you through the solution step-by-step. This leaves you to enjoy the gorgeous environments and wider adventure. Better still, the game doesn’t penalise you for using this system, it wants you to have fun, and it shows.

Working together is essential to succeed in these puzzles, you will need to communicate and explain your reasoning, but most of all, you will need to trust one another to come to the right solution. It was like a fun teambuilding exorcise, but actually fun, and not horribly forced, and nobody had to make a raft out of paper straws.

 

Bundles of Joy

The platforming involved is similarly joyous. Jumping over Lilly pads, swinging across chasms, avoiding falling debris, the platforming staples are all here. There is nothing revolutionary about this, but again, it is the execution which is so good.

Running, jumping, wall sliding is all well and good, but the most fun of Unravel’s platforming comes from the swinging mechanics. Nailing a perfect swing arc is just so much fun and can lead to some impressive sequences, one in particular features an escape through the middle of an English forest fire.

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The platforming is also influenced by this theme of “togetherness” as players will need to use their other half as an anchor point to swing to other far away platforms. This is enhanced even further by the ability to pull your partner up if they fall. This made platforming sections far less frustrating as only one of us had to make it really, sometimes my girlfriend needed me to pull her up, sometimes it was me that needed saving. It is just so damn well executed.

The platforming is also made more accessible through the activation of a slow-motion feature, which aids the trickier platforming segments, just a little bit. This does lock out certain trophies and achievements, but for the sake of having fun, I’ll take that. Purists can choose to never touch it if they like, it is entirely up to you.

 

Strings and Notes

The music of Unravel Two is as you would expect just from looking at it, the music swells to enchanting heights when adorable events unfold and remains moody and atmospheric among dangerous and industrial locales.

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Not that it isn’t great, it is performed beautifully, it’s just exactly what you would expect, and it is definitely something that I’d listen to whilst doing a complicated Excel sheet (yes, I work in an office).

 

The Heart Strings

Finally, I would like to touch on something a little less tangible, and something I’m sure not all players will experience, depending on how you choose to play. The heart of this game is absolutely undeniable. After playing games like Overcooked, Human Fall Flat and even Borderlands with my girlfriend, none have ever made me feel quite as “together” as Unravel Two.

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This game will make you say, “I’ve got you”, “it’s okay”, “have you got me?” over and over again, and that kind of reinforcement really does bring you closer together. It really is hard to describe. Much like life, Yarny can’t make it alone, you will have to rely on others and at points they will rely on you. Unravel tells you all of this, not through words or visuals, but the mechanics. You and your partner can get through anything, and if they can’t make it, you can piggyback them, how effin’ cute is that!?

You can play the entire game single-player if you wish, but I feel like that does the game a massive disservice, it is meant to be played together.

 

It All “Ties” Together

Unravel Two achieves exactly what it sets out to. It brings those who play it closer together. It is more than the sum of its parts; it takes lots of good elements and weaves them together to make an excellent package. Although short, this was absolutely worth the price of admission for me and I may even revisit this to do the more difficult “challenge” variants of the levels.

During the ending cutscene, my girlfriend and I were both hit by a wave of emotion, and yet couldn’t figure out why, other than “it was just so cute”. It is brought to a head by a message during the final credits which I think sums up the entire game, the mission, and finally the roaring success of this title.

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Unravel Two is absolutely worth your time, whether playing it with friends, family, or a significant other. This game spoke to me more than even Journey, and that game is praised for its ability to resonate with the audience, the fact Unravel isn’t treated similarly is unfortunate, but hopefully this encourages you to check it out if you haven’t already.

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